Labour has written to the International Trade Secretary with more than 230 questions about the implications of the UK joining a mammoth free trade pact that includes Australia, Canada and Japan.
Shadow international trade secretary Emily Thornberry urged Liz Truss to reopen the public consultation on the UK joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
Negotiations are expected to start later this year under the government’s post-Brexit plans, and joining the CPTPP will cut tariffs in trading with its 11 members, which also include Mexico, New Zealand and Singapore.
Thornberry warned in the letter, which is accompanied by a document containing 238 questions, that there could be a trade deal with China “by the back door” should Beijing decide to apply to join the pact.
“There is one particularly vital issue that was not even considered a possibility at the time of the 2018 consultation, which is the increasingly serious prospect that China may apply to join the CPTPP,” Thornberry wrote.
“As spelt out in the attached document, this raises numerous questions, the first and foremost of which is whether the UK will be granted the right to veto China’s membership if we complete our accession before they begin theirs; and if so, whether the Government would intend to exercise that right?
“You have said the UK has no plans for a bilateral trade deal with China, but is not the greater risk that such a deal could take place by the back door, via the CPTPP?”
Thornberry also raised concerns about New Zealand launching a public consultation on new accessions to the CPTPP, which said that new members will need to comply with the existing agreement.
“Unfortunately, that sounds like a recipe for the UK to end up as a rule-taker in the CPTPP rather than a rule-maker,” she wrote.
She asked Truss to consider whether it would be “sensible” to reopen the public consultation on the CPTPP, once the terms of joining are known.
Truss has previously said that joining the pact would “create enormous opportunities for UK businesses that simply weren’t there as part of the EU”.
A government spokeswoman responded: “We have no current plans to negotiate a deal with China. The UK is committed to using our independent voice in the WTO to tackle unfair trading practices.
“The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership is a high standards agreement and membership requires compliance with the CPTPP rules and all parties making deep market access commitments to each other.”